To paraphrase Bill James, the alternative to doing statistics is not “not doing statistics,” it’s “doing bad statistics.”
Some people bemoan the excessive quantitative nature of academic political science nowadays. I certainly agree that there’s room for nonquantitative work, but you also want to have some people who know their way around numbers. Or else you’ll end up with this sort of horrible non-analysis by David Runciman of U.S. elections. What’s striking about Runciman’s article–and he’s a well-respected political theorist, I’m sure–is that he relies on statistics all over the place. He just doesn’t know what he’s talking about–and, even worse, doesn’t seem to know that he doesn’t know.
I mouth off all the time about things I don’t know about. But at least when I go on about Karl Popper, for example, I ground it in my own experience as a researcher, I don’t just spout off in general.
Anyway, my point is not to pick on Runciman for a year-old article that he probably whipped off in a couple of hours and maybe already regrets. I’m just using it as an example of how people who don’t know statistics are doomed to rely on statistics all the same.
Just as Bill James pointed out how fans who hate sabermetrics (and all it stands for) were forming all sorts of misinformed opinions based on batting averages and the like.